Cold heart of winter, a time ideally suited for the extraordinary wine you probably don’t think about but should: port.

Ports are sweet, fortified dessert wines made in Portugal and identified by “Porto” on the label. Grapes come from vineyards in the Douro River Valley. The third-longest river in the Iberian Peninsula, the Douro flows into Portugal from central Spain. Barges bring grapes downriver to be vinified in “lodges” in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro from the port city of Porto.

In making port, fermentation starts but brandy is added when alcohol reaches six to nine percent, which stops fermentation because alcohol kills yeast. Stopping fermentation preserves sweetness and fruitiness. The brandy increases alcohol level to around 20% ABV. While port is sweet, tannins and acidity produce delicious balance.

Ports are a blend of six Portuguese grapes. Typically even the winemaker does not know the exact blend since vineyards are field blends—various varieties of vines grow in the same vineyard. The “taster” or “blender” is a key person in the lodge as he/she pulls various wine lots together.

Symington Family Estates is the leading Porto producer. Andrew James Symington arrived from Scotland in 1882 to found the company. He initially joined Graham’s. In 1905, he was a partner in Warre & Co. and in 1912 a partner in Dow’s Port. By 1970, the family owned both Graham’s and Smith Woodhouse. The Symingtons now control Cockburn’s, Graham’s, Warre’s, Dow’s, Smith Woodhouse, Gould Campbell, Quarles Harris, and Martinez—the strongest port portfolio in the world.

Fladgate Partnership is the other port giant, with such leading brands at Taylor-Fladgate, Fonesca, and Croft.

Port absolutely dazzles as a dessert wine. Great with dark chocolate and chocolate-based desserts, blue cheese with honey drip, Stilton cheese, roasted nuts, or just sip solo. Oh, and another thing—this applies all year long, not just the depth of winter. Slightly chill in hotter days, but continue to enjoy.

Tasting notes:

• Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port: Rich, very fruit-forward, world’s best-selling reserve port. $18 Link to my review

• Croft Reserve Tawny Porto: Slightly lighter and fruitier, extraordinarily smooth. $20 Link to my review

• Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port: Gloriously delicious, smooth, commands another sip. $21-24 Link to my review

• Warre’s Otima 10 Ten Year Old Tawny Port: Lighter, fruitier than expected from tawny port aged 10 years in oak; delicious. $17-28 (500 ml) Link to my review

Last round: Why can’t I be comforted by an apple? Why does it have to be port wine and chocolate?